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Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Food of Love--Concert by the Rochester Choral Arts Ensemble and Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN


Rating: 5 of 5 stars

"If music be the food of love, play on."--William Shakespeare, 12th Night, Act I, Scene 1.

This quote from Shakespeare's 12th Night was the theme of the concert this afternoon, a collaboration between the Rochester Choral Arts Ensemble in Rochester, MN,  and the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN. The concert was at Central Lutheran Church in Winona. In the 400 years since Shakespeare wrote his plays, many composers have set his words to music. Some of those may have been for Shakespeare's performances. Today's concert was a performance of some of this music, combined with dramatic readings from the Shakespeare plays the lyrics came from. i don't know if it's been done elsewhere, but it was the first time here.

The concert started out with two of Shakespeare's sonnets, then into As You Like It. There were two settings of Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind, which was especially appropriate today. (There is a winter storm watch for this part of Minnesota through Tuesday. It won't be long before Minnesota looks like Disney's Frozen. I keep expecting Olaf the snowman to come out and ask, "Do you need a hug?" But I digress.) The next selections were Under the Greenwood Tree and A Lover and His Lass, also from As You Like It. The next selections were from the Tempest, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. (By the way, I wonder about that superstition about Macbeth being bad luck. The performance tonight was from the play, and the song Double, Double, Toil and Trouble, and nothing happened. The theater didn't collapse or catch fire, and no one got seriously hurt. Maybe that superstition is nothing.) The performance concluded with a selection from Much Ado About Nothing, which will be performed by the Festival in 2015.

I sing in choral groups myself, and have for many years. It was actually nice to sit and watch a concert from the audience. I know the work they put in, because I've done it myself. The choir was excellent. One of the hardest things to do is to stay in tune on a capella songs. They did well, although on some of the 20th century songs, I couldn't tell what in tune was. They were intentionally dissonant, with some of the songs dividing into 11 parts. They have obviously put a lot of work into this, and it showed. At the end of Double Double, Toil and Trouble, the song called for them to shut their folders together. They were actually able to do it. I know I'd have problems with that. One of the songs was John Rutter's Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind. When I heard this, I remembered performing it at a high school choral festival. It still had the same wintry feeling that it did back then, and the chorus did a great job of bringing that to life.

Special shoutouts to Doug Scholz-Carlson and Tarah Flanagan from the Festival, who performed the Shakespeare readings. One great thing about Shakespeare is the you don't need a lot of staging to perform it. The words themselves carry the action. They did an excellent job bringing life to Shakespeare's words. Even though they were in formal wear, you could picture them in the forest in As You Like It, or contemplating Duncan's murder in Macbeth. (Special note to Doug Scholz-Carlson for his singing solo on one arrangement of Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind. It's an arrangement that written for him by Dan Kallman, and was first performed when the Festival performed As You Like It.)

All in all, a great concert. On one of the chorus's CDs. there was a song called If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On. This would be a great song for next year. (Hint, hint.)

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